Pine trees in the sun against a blue sky

Conflicts concerning the forest increasingly perceived to be about politics and culture

Emotions play a large role for forest owners. Conflicts are to an ever smaller extent about technical issues and increasingly about political and cultural issues. This is shown in a new study from Linnaeus University on how private forest owners and other stakeholders perceive and are affected by forestry conflicts in southern Sweden.

The forest plays a key role for our future. It should promote biodiversity, provide aviation fuel and toilet paper, offer recreation, and much more. As the pressure on the forest increases, so does the risk of conflicts between different interest groups.

“The most frequent area of conflict today is forest protection. Especially woodland key habitats, that is to say, forest areas that are considered to be of great importance for plants and animals. Concerning such areas, opinions often differ and the current forestry policy can in some cases lead to the opposite effect than the intended, unless the consequences are fully understood”, explains Rikard Jakobsson, senior lecturer in forestry and wood technology at Linnaeus University. Together with his colleague Erika Olofsson and Bianca Ambrose-Oji at Forest Research in Great Britain, he has conducted a study among forest owners and other forestry stakeholders in southern Sweden. Focus has been on mapping out how they perceive forest-related conflicts and what impact these conflicts have on a sustainable forestry.

Often more opinions than facts
“The stakeholders were of the experience that the conflicts have changed from dealing with technical issues, like the design of a cutting area or pesticides, to political and cultural issues like ownership and changes to the exercise of authority. The conflicts are also more present in the public debate and many are driven more by opinions than by knowledge and facts”, Erika Olofsson explains.

The study shows that emotions play a large role in the conflicts, especially for the forest owners. One cannot say just anything in any kind of way to them. They also value responsibility and want to acquire knowledge. In order to handle conflicts, the stakeholders stressed the importance of meetings, adaptation and education.

The concerned authorities need to become better at understanding how different strategies affect the forest owners and the stakeholders need to rediscover meeting places. At the same time, the stakeholders point out that dialogue is an important tool for handling conflicting opinions, which is positive”, Rikard Jakobsson concludes.

The name of the study is “Stakeholder perception, management and impacts of forestry conflicts in southern Sweden” and it was published in Scandinavian Journal of Forest research, issue 1-2021. The study combines in-depth interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires and was funded by Stiftelsen Seydlitz MP bolagen.